Marae offers clean water to Karitane and Waikouaiti residents

By Taroi Black

An Otago iwi is blocked from using its pātaka kai of pāua, pipi, tuna due to the mystery lurking in its contaminated awa.

And a gold mining company says it's not responsible for the contamination.

And today Otago Regional Council today said it had received test results showing no indication of lead contamination in the Waikouaiti River. 

Lead wasn't detectable in both of its water samples, which were taken upstream and downstream respectively of the water reservoir. 

The council said it would continue to investigate because it was absolutely imperative that it delivered an answer about the river water that could be trusted by the impacted communities of  Karitane and Waikouaiti.

This follows a hui held at Puketeraki Marae hosted by mana whenua of Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka who had been told by  Dunedin City Council that water samples taken in December contained almost 40 times the acceptable level of lead. 

Kuia Khyla Russell says the impact of the contamination is affecting iwi's food source, and "we want questions answered". 

Marae offers water

"We are worried about the effect of this pollutant on the mauri of the awa."

Residents in Karitāne and Waikouaiti also received a no-drinking notice from the city council that led to marae members offering their facilities their safe drinking water to the affected homes.  

Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki Chair Matapura Ellison says, “Our focus is on ensuring our whānau and the wider community have access to safe drinking water. Until such time as we receive reassurances, the ongoing testing is important to ensure people haven’t been exposed to long-term contamination.”

While local bodies have made their assessments, so has the gold miner Oceana Gold, which is based upstream of the Waikouaiti catchment. 

It told Te Ao Māori News that it was definitely not connected to the contamination in the Waikouaiti River.

The miner argued the contamination could be related to an historic long-closed mine.

Local mana whenua Kāti Huirapa Rūnaka ki Puketeraki says it is open to conducting an independent assessment to see what caused the contamination.